Monday, February 22, 2010

#39: Dinosaur (2000)

"Dinosaur" has got to be the strangest, most out-of-place inclusion in the Disney canon (some vehemently insist that it's not canon, but take that up with Wikipedia). Its production actually was underway in Pixar's infancy, as Disney set out to use CG in a film like no one had ever done before. The plan was using live-action background inhabited by seamlessly added CG characters, I guess similar to how "Roger Rabbit" triumphed in integrating 2D characters. The film was a success for its time, but at this point no one remembers or cares about this one; backlash led to the "Secret Lab" production facility Disney set up for this kind of film work shut down. I will admit I haven't seen any movie quite like "Dinosaur," but I will tell you, that's not exactly a good thing.
Due to some asshole carnivore scaring away the herd, a lone dinosaur egg is left misplaced, ending up in the hands of a lemur family. The mother raises the baby to adulthood, now a towering iguanodon named Aladar. Following the mating season of the lemurs, where the cocky annoying kid "brother" of Aladar is unsuccessful, a meteor shower rains down upon the island, leaving Aladar and the lemurs stuck in unknown territory. They come upon a large herd of dinosaurs trudging through the sand, led by an unsympathetic Kron, who has no patience for stragglers. Aladar, of course, befriends the stragglers, two aging old biddy dinosaurs, and gets in good with the leader's sister Neera. Aladar must butt heads with Kron over his harsh leadership skills as he tries to save his friends and get all of the herd to habitable land.
There's a lot to be said on the visuals, but when you're dealing with any film, regardless of the technology at hand, story is always first and foremost. If I don't care about what's happening to the characters, then I could give two shits about anything else. The fatal flaw of "Dinosaur" is its script; I was so bewildered at its terribleness I had to look up the screenwriters, and hey! One of the two is a documentary filmmaker! Who better to write a cartoon about dinosaurs than someone who does documentaries. They're funny, right? But forget funny. The lemurs, particularly that annoying one mentioned earlier, seem to have been added for comic relief, spouting pathetic one-liners for attempts at a laugh, but not much of this film is funny. But that's fine, this movie isn't presenting itself as that, it seems like it wants to be an adventurous epic (it IS about dinosaurs after all). But if that's the case, what do we get? Half-way through the movie, our main conflict is that the leader of the herd is making our characters walk too much. Wow. It also doesn't help that our lead is as one-dimensional as they come; regardless of their 3D rendering, these characters are as flat as they come, hero, love interest, uncaring jackass... whatever.
Okay, so how 'bout them visuals. I will say the first five minutes or so is pretty cool looking, where we follow the dinosaur egg traveling throughout the land through various means. We get a good look at how great the dinosaurs look against the real landscapes; it's like "Jurassic Park" but even better. The creatures moved naturally, and the scenery is pretty breathtaking. The film was allegedly going to be mostly, if not entirely, silent, but of course executives weren't going to be happy with that. The moment the lemurs start talking when they see the egg, the movie suffers a continuous drop in quality and interest to which there is no end. But speaking of the visuals, the film is at its best when the dinosaurs are shown moving naturally. They're rendered to look realistic, so that's when they look their best. The opening, the dinosaurs moving mindlessly in the herd, the speechless carnivore dinosaurs, they look pretty good. Our leads, who exchange in heavily expository dialogue and attempts at snarky remarks, look pretty rough. The lemurs fare a little better in that they have human-esque faces, leaving the dinosaurs with basically nothing. It ain't easy to make a dinosaur look sad, I get this, but it doesn't help when your script is shitty either.
Everything about this movie is oh-so predictable in its cookie-cutter storytelling, but what's most shocking is the divide in aim. The visuals strive to be so high-end and cutting edge; at this point we only had three Pixar movies and no DreamWorks, making this to look pretty technologically impressive for the time. Disney went all out on this film in terms of visuals, and despite its lack of success in terms of animating characters, at least you can say they didn't half-ass it. Meanwhile, the story aims oh-so low. Apart from the boring and ridiculous morals about one person (err, dino) making a difference and helping out the less fortunate (I could rant about the hypocrisies on this made within the film itself, but this review will go on forever), I was surprised at how little they had to work with in terms of visuals. You've got a chance to animate DINOSAURS doing ANYTHING, and half of the movie they spend WALKING and TALKING. The very few action sequences feel very awkward and out-of-place; it's incredibly ironic that a movie that Disney claimed would be a benchmark in computer animation is completely dependent on horrible horrible dialogue.

Verdict? Despite my intense displeasure toward almost everything about this movie, for some reason I can't bring myself to say I hate it. Why? This is one of those movies where after it's done, you sit there with a million questions in your head, all of them questioning what exactly the filmmakers were trying to get at with the film. Clearly with the sophistication of the visuals they must have had something in mind, but what? I have the feeling that something really great could have come out of this technology, a dialogue-less epic of dinosaurs struggling for survival. But instead, we get all this CG wonderment stuck with one of the worst scripts ever, and what resulted was a gigantic train wreck. What a piece of shit...

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